A newsmaker you should know: Professor, musician Ikach reflects on how he conducts life

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For Yugo Ikach, 48, life seems to be a song, an adventure in melody, harmony and all things musical.

Mr. Ikach's professional life began in earnest when he was a computer science major at the University of Pittsburgh and he got the role of Lt. Cable in a community theater production of "South Pacific."

"I started taking voice lessons because the role had this difficult high note that, every time I practiced singing it, my voice cracked," he said. "During one of the lessons, when my instructor suggested that perhaps I should really get into singing on a serious basis, a light went off in my head. I thought why not do something with my life I loved. I wasn't crazy about a career in computer science, so I switched my major to voice performance and enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University."

For the next 20 years, he lived, slept and breathed music. During that time, he did everything from opera and musical theater to big-band crooning. His lyrical tenor enabled him to sing with the Pittsburgh Opera, the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Public Theater, the Wheeling Symphony and with Latshaw Productions, a local theatrical production company with which he performed in more than 2,000 shows.

"In a Latshaw production of 'Soda Shop Hop,' I met my wife, Charmaine, a singer, actress and dancer," he said. "Right now, instead of doing much in the way of performing, she's chasing our four young kids around trying to keep her sanity until they start school. Somehow, she also manages to put up with my hectic schedule."

Mr. Ikach's singing and performing career also allowed him to travel the country playing in venues such as casinos, riverboats and theaters. Locally, he made time to perform in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's productions of "The Pirates of Penzance" and "The Mikado."

"I remember doing 'The Mikado' twice on Sunday, having our first child on Monday and doing the operetta again on Tuesday," he said.

One of his most memorable singing experiences came while a member of the Pittsburgh Opera chorus in a production of "The Daughter of the Regiment," starring Dame Joan Sutherland. Not only did he get to appear onstage with the opera diva, but he also got to talk to her and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, at the opening night cast party.

He also earned a master's of music in voice performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and a doctorate of musical arts in voice performance from West Virginia University. The year 2004 proved momentous. That's when he was hired as an assistant professor of music at California University of Pennsylvania.

Four years later, he was named the university's choral director and in June became chair of the music department after his mentor, Max Gonano, retired. In the four years since he was appointed as director of the university choir, it has performed at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, at the White House and at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

In addition to continuing to sing and act sporadically, he's also been at home on the podium, leading such diverse groups as the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra and the choir at Immaculate Conception Church in Washington. In fall 2005, he began his tenure as principal conductor and music director of the Washington Symphony Orchestra, which performs for large audiences at four mainstage concerts per year.

Last summer, he helped organize a Wine, Jazz and Pops Festival at Mingo Creek County Park near Eighty-Four. At the moment, his pet project is to double last year's attendance during the two-day event scheduled for Aug. 4 and 5.

"Music opened the world to me and enables me to scratch enough of my artistic itches as a professor, a singer and a musical director. ... Someday, maybe when the kids are grown, I might like to get back into singing and acting. Right now, music has allowed me to have a nice house and a wonderful family. I really feel blessed."

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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